The 4 Essential Starting Steps for Goal Setting (if you want to actually succeed)

The close of a year is bittersweet, but undoubtedly as Moms, we think of “What did I even do this past year?” I hate to say it, but time flies, right? As the saying goes, “slow days & fast years.” This past year was the first time that I ever got really focused on doing more. NOT just doing more stuff (oh hell no!), but doing more with my life: more purpose, more joy, and overall, more intentional!

I don’t want my life to happen to me; I want my life to happen because of me! Because of the…

  • big goal that I set my mind to
  • action plan I set up
  • the inner motivation that drove me
  • the process goals I achieved along the way
  • the progress I made
  • and the mindset that made me believe in myself and my abilities

And so, this past year, I happened to my life! Do you ever wonder if there is more for you too?

I used to wonder that a lot. I have one year of intentional (my word for the year, yes, totally cliche) living under my belt. This next year will be even better due to my successful goal setting process! My body is humming with excitement, and I want that joyful exhilaration for you too!

In this series, I will show you how to set yourself up for the year you’ve always dreamed of by going through the essential goal setting steps to take to set yourself up to actually achieve your goals

the essential steps for goal setting

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New Year’s Resolutions – a new year & a new you!

There is something very compelling about a fresh start! And don’t we all love a good redemption story! A chance for a new & improved You! We are tired of the rat race inside our head, of never doing what we really want, or being who we really yearn to be!

So we make a vague pledge to ourselves that this year, it will all be different! We buy expensive gym memberships, with our eye on the 5:45 am cross-fit class. We will totally get up for it!

I’ve been there, but for me, it was spin class. I went – a few times. Like everyone else, my conviction wavered and sleeping in sounded much more attractive.

Sigh, there’s always next year. (wah-wah)

New Year’s resolutions don’t work

We always hear it, New Year’s resolutions don’t work! People always quit a few weeks in! In fact, “Studies have shown that less than 25% of people actually stay committed to their resolutions after just 30 days, and only 8% actually accomplish them.” (source)

So why do we keep setting these vague goals with no clear or specific process behind them? Hope upon hope that we will finally stick with it!

We need to do this; we have to! So we make the same goal again this year. Be it to read more, exercise more, quit smoking, pack kiddo lunches every night before school, etc. Blah, blah, blah.

Yet, we don’t dig deeper than the surface issue. We make our New Year’s resolution and just say that “this time we will do it!” We don’t stop to reflect if this “goal” is what we truly want or need.

Aren’t you tired of this cycle driven by the guilt of “I should?”

“I should lose 10lbs.”
“I should stop scrolling on Insta every night for an hour+.”
“I should….”

Let’s add in, “I should stop breaking promises to myself.”

Because how many times have you promised that you’d change some “thing” and then not? How many times have you set goal and then let an obstacle get in the way, or worse yet, just forgotten all about it?

You can be your own redemption story! You don’t need anyone to save you. You have everything you need to change your own damn life right inside you!

You ready? Let’s go!

The essential starting steps for goal setting that achieve results

To have the highest chance of success, there is some prework for personal goal setting that you HAVE TO do! As any good baker knows you can’t just jump in and start mixing, you have to prep your surface, get eggs & butter at room temp and read your instructions!

Your life deserves no less!

Pregame Steps for setting goals:

  1. Say goodbye to this last year.
  2. Acknowledge and learn to respect the one critical factor for success
  3. Plan to win!
  4. Remember who’s your #1

Let’s dive into each one of these!

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1. Review this last year wins & struggles

This can be one of the hardest steps, as we don’t like to dwell on things, be it our mistakes, our stumbles, or our success (as sometimes we just call it luck). It’s like picking up a book and skipping to the last chapter and reading it. You think you know what happened, but glossing over it won’t set you up for a different outcome. It just leaves you in the dark.

So set aside some dedicated, uninterrupted quiet time to reflect on last year. Go someplace private, as you don’t want to be crying in the middle of Starbucks, diluting your latte and having people stare uncomfortably at you.

Will you cry? Maybe, probably, if you lived at all last year you will possibly shed some tears of either joy, frustration of deep heart-wrenching sadness. It’s okay.

Grab a notebook and some pens. In going through these questions and devoting time to honest answers, you will uncover some clues as to why you may not have reached last year’s personal goals, and maybe you’ll discover that you are so much stronger than you think!

Let me stress; I want full and honest answers from you. You won’t get anywhere by giving a vague idea of half-truths or full-out lying to yourself; we shouldn’t hide anymore. It does us no good.

Action Needed:

Questions to give soulfully honest answers to; last year…

  1. What was something that you were proud of? Be it an action, a project, a season in your life.
  2. What was something that you weren’t sure you’d make it through? (Hint: you made it! You may be a little bit bruised or tattered around the edges, but YOU MADE IT!)
  3. A (big) mistake that you made. What did you learn from it?
  4. A new “thing” that you learned? (skill, hobby, habit, etc.)
  5. Something you really wanted to do but didn’t. Why didn’t you?
  6. Something big that frustrated you or made you mad. Does it still matter now?
  7. Something that changed your life (an idea, an action, an outside influence)
  8. An idea that still nags at you? Why is this circling your brain?
  9. Did you set a goal for last year? What was it? Did you achieve it? What lead to the end result?

Writing these answers out will help your mind process the information (more than just thinking the answers). If you’re having trouble answering any of these questions, look back through your phone photos (stay off of social media) and see what memories your camera roll brings up.

Acknowledge your answers, the negative consequence, and the achievement. Give them room to evolve fully. What did you learn? Can you see what is serving you, and what (or who) is holding you back?

Sometimes we have a hard time letting go. Of things, thoughts, emotions, and even dreams. Yet, it’s what will make our lives so much easier, lighter, clearer, healthier, and give us so much more room to breathe. So if you need to channel your inner Queen Elsa or Marie Kondo, let’s just let it go!

Questions to release yourself…

  1. What was I doing that didn’t really matter (actions, plans, excuses made, hopes, etc.)?
  2. How did I waste my own time (social media, waiting for someone else to do something, waiting for things to happen, etc.)?
  3. Expectations that I had that didn’t happen?
  4. Stories that I told myself that brought me down (limiting beliefs, negativity, verbal self-abuse)?
  5. Things that frustrated me that I had no control over (think, will this matter in 1-year, 5-years, etc.)?

Say to yourself…

“These things are dead weight, and they do not serve me. They only brought me down and spun me out of control. I am letting go of the anger, the guilt, the fear, the jealousy, and the sorrow. These things and thoughts do not control me any longer! I am now in control.”

Now, shut the door.

2. The crucial factor for success when goal setting

Don’t you hate it when people tell you about this fantastic thing, and it will CHANGE. YOUR. LIFE. And then they tell you it’s $9,000. WTF?!?

This isn’t one of those stories. This story goes like this…

There is one thing that you can do that dramatically CHANGE. YOUR. LIFE. The best part is that it’s free! The concept is simple, yet it may not be easy (at first). BUT, with consistent work, you can make this success skill all yours!  

It’s your mindset.

Personal Goal Setting & Your Mindset

Our Mamas always said, “believe in yourself,” yet somewhere along the way, we lost that. We didn’t even realize it, we just let it slip through our fingers, and we then felt the waves of failure and disappointment, and it seems we knew this is what would happen.

Harsh? Maybe. True? Absolutely!

Getting your mindset right is the most important step in goal setting. Yet it’s often the most common step to skip past. Why?

There are no check-off boxes? No rule of thumb that says, “this is complete when XYZ happens”.

Your mindset is all powerful and all knowing. Yes, it’s a bit woo woo but it’s still a driving force.

What’s “woo woo”? It’s a real word. Its definition is so spot on with the example of mindset that I have to lay it out.

Woo Woo: Relating to or holding unconventional beliefs regarded as having little or no scientific basis, especially those relating to spirituality, mysticism, or alternative medicine. (source)

Even though the scope of mindset work is so open, broad and can’t be quantified on its own, there are many studies that cite the principle of its success.

I wrote specifically on your Money Mindset as a skill you needed and laid out how you can shape & change your mindset. So if you know this needs to be addressed, then be sure to check it out.

If you believe, deep down that something is or isn’t possible for you. You will be right. You have told your brain, so emphatically that something is XYZ, and so it is.

One of my absolute favorite ways that this is addressed is a Chapter in Marie Forleo’s Everything is Figureoutable. Chapter 3: The Magic of Belief. It gives some scientific studies, it gives personal anecdotes, and it makes you think hard about what you believe and why. You believe “it” to be the way you see it.

She boiled it all down into one little earth-shattering sentence.

All beliefs are a choice and choices can be changed.

Marie Forleo


Damn. It’s so true.

Now, you may not agree with Marie’s tone, her snark, and her sass. But when she lays it out like that, you better get to steppin!  

From this one post, if all you do is get her book to read Chapter 3, then do it. DO IT NOW!

I don’t need to say any more about it. You get it.

3. Personal goal setting – plan to win

The best of intentions are just that. Intentions. Yet, success comes with strategic action, and strategic action comes from careful planning. I am a natural-born planner. Planning sessions and to-do lists run deep in my veins. If you’re not that way, then cool. You don’t need to stress about 7hr strategy sessions or goal setting theory to do it right.

But, you do need to do a couple of things if you want to reach your desired outcome…

  1. write down your personal goals and the action steps needed to achieve them.
  2. check-in on them regularly

Let’s dig deeper.

Write down your goals and action steps for goal setting

People who write down a clear goal (that means a very specific goal, usually framed as a smart goal) are 43 billion times more likely to achieve them than those who don’t. Okay, that stat is a lie. I won’t bore you by the actual numbers. There are too many studies that cite this to list it out. But you get the idea.

Yet, one article from Forbes does go deep into why writing down your goals makes a difference.

It talks about how writing things down impacts you on two distinct levels…

  1. External Storage – you put something someplace so that you can find it later, like your thoughts on a piece of paper.
  2. Encoding – the process of how our brain analyzes information. Info goes to our hippocampus, and there, the info gets kept or tossed. Writing improves the encoding process, so you’re more likely to remember it.

The next part is what is truly fascinating…

“Neuropsychologists have identified the “generation effect” which basically says individuals demonstrate better memory for material they’ve generated themselves than for material they’ve merely read. It’s a nice edge to have and, when you write down your goal, you get to access the “generation effect” twice:

First, when you generate the goal (create a picture in your mind), and second, when you write it down because you’re essentially reprocessing or regenerating that image. You have to rethink your mental picture, put it on the paper, place objects, scale them, think about their spatial relations, draw facial expressions, etc. There’s a lot of cognitive processing taking place right there. In essence, you get a double whammy that really sears the goal into your brain.” (source)

Kinda cool, huh! A written goal it is!

Check-in on your goals regularly

The success is in the follow-up! Time and time again, people talk about their amazing “XYZ,” but it’s the multiple touchpoints of their hands & mind with that thing that is really cementing their success.

For our purposes of personal goal setting, you have your goal, and maybe there are automatically multiple times that you need to interact with it. Like submission deadlines, etc. (outcome goals). Or, more likely, there are no set timeframes, just a vague goal with no structure.

So you need to decide what you want your measurable goal to be. Think of them like checkpoints along the way to your bigger goal. Like a daily goal, or an outcome goal, such as I will finish doing xyz by this date.

Whatever you decide, you need to do it. Set reminders in your calendar, in your phone, sticky notes on your bathroom mirror. Set these things up immediately, don’t wait to do this. Make your follow up times part of the initial goal setting process.

Don’t spread your check in’s too far apart either; you’ll lose too much traction and drag it out if you do. You need consistent & timely touchpoints with your big overarching goal.

Depending on your goal, it could be an every day check in – exercise or nutrition related. Or it could be weekly – relationships or habits based. Or it could be every two weeks – skill-based, etc. I will strongly urge you not to go farther out than that. You’ll lose too much ground if you do.

Think of these as short term goals leading to the long term goal.

4. Personal goal setting promises – you are your own #1

From a young age, we are taught that promises are something sacred. Not to be given lightly, nor to be blindly agreed upon. Yet, as we’ve gotten older, the conviction of our promises has lessened. At least, for me they have.  

  • I promised my mom that I’d call more.
  • I promised my friend that I’d go to a movie with her.
  • I promised my husband that I wouldn’t stay up too late.
  • I promised myself that I would do this, and this, and this.

No eating sweets at work, no more scrolling through IG late at night, no more snapping at my hubs. I promise!

You know what, the promises I made to myself, were the easiest to break. No one knew about the promises but me, no one would be disappointed (except myself). I could ignore those promises in the blink of an eye. And I did.

(insert awkward silence)

A few months ago, I read something that changed it all. I wrote about Staying Motivated on Saving Money, and in it, I quoted Rachel Hollis’ Girl Wash Your Face, as the segment was so powerful for me it bears repeating.

She told a story about Pam, a lady who was doing Whole 30 and quit without an ounce of guilt. The heart clencher came when Rachel asked us, the reader, “Y’all would you respect her?”


Y’all, Would you respect her? This woman who starts and stops over and over again? Would you count on Pam or the friend who keeps blowing you off for stupid reasons? Would you trust them when they committed to something? Would you believe them when they committed to you? No. No way. And that level of distrust and apprehension applies to you too.

Rachel Hollis

I found a similar passage in Marie’s Everything Is Figuroutable; when you promise yourself something, and it comes time to keep that promise, you feel some hesitation. You say, “I can’t do ___ because of ___.” What you are really saying is, “I won’t,” not “I can’t.” Because you totally can, you just don’t want to for whatever reason.  

You’re not willing to do it.  

So, when you find that you “can’t” do something, acknowledge the lie. Replace it with “won’t” and see if you accept that as being true. Once you make this distinction and sit with the results, you will tire of lying to yourself. Because would you respect you? Hell no!

Sentences to sear into your brain:

What I say to myself is what I do!

I am 100% responsible for my life!

The promises that I make to myself are the most important!

At the end of the day

These pregame steps for goal setting is vital to the success of your personal goal setting process; I cannot stress this enough.

It makes sense that generally speaking, people don’t meet their goals, because they don’t set themselves up for successful goal achievement by getting their head on straight and recognize where they have been. They skip this first part and head straight to just blurting out their goals. Don’t be like them. Be like you. Just a better prepared you!

personal core value optin

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  1. Can’t wait to see the next 3 posts in this series! If they are as good as this one, I’m going to crush my goals in 2020!

  2. I love that you’re doing this series because honestly, goals scared me. I’m often paralyzed by my perfectionism and am afraid if I set goals, I will be so disappointed if I don’t meet them.

    1. I can totally appreciate your fear, so what’s the worst that can happen if you disappoint yourself? Yet, what’s the worst that could happen if you don’t take chances? It’s absolutely a mindset shift, and so many struggle with this, you are not alone! I know you that there is greatness in the possibilities of trying!

  3. Fantastic post! So many great ideas, but the one I love the most is reviewing the past year honestly and then deciding to not break any more promises to yourself šŸ™‚

    1. Jenny, I am so glad that resonated with you! It is the one thing that I wanted people to connect with! The promises that you make to yourself are the most important!

  4. I will have some time off after Christmas and will dedicate some time to do this pregame goal setting exercise! Can’t wait to see what the next 3 steps are!

  5. I love this series! I am determined to set goals next year and really stick to them! I know I can achieve what I put my mind to!